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Watchdog: Interior official broke rules

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A government official broke federal rules and should face punishment for leaking information about endangered species to private groups, the Interior Department's watchdog said.

Julie MacDonald, the deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks, acknowledged releasing information that was not supposed to be made public to such organizations as the California Farm Bureau Federation and the Pacific Legal Foundation, according to the agency's inspector general.

Environmentalists and other critics contend MacDonald undermined federal .

In the report by Earl Devaney, Interior Department officials describe MacDonald as a political appointee bent on manipulating science to fit her policy goals, which they said favor developers and industry.

The report said MacDonald:

● Removed more than 80 percent of almost 300 miles of streams that were to be protected to help bull trout recover in the Northwest's basin.

● Tried to remove protections for a rare jumping mouse in the Rocky Mountains based on a questionable study.

● Pressured the Fish and Wildlife Service to alter findings on the Kootenai River sturgeon in Idaho and Montana so dam operations would not be harmed.

Interior Department spokeswoman Tina Kreisher said MacDonald was not immediately available for comment Thursday.

Rep. Nick Rahall, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said he would hold a hearing in May about the report and the broader issues it raises.

The hearing will provide "a sweeping review on whether politics is infiltrating decisions" and subverting science in the government's handling of endangered species, said Rahall, D-W.Va., who released Devaney's˚ report. The findings were first reported in Thursday's New York Times.

Devaney said his office began investigating after an anonymous complaint in April 2006 that MacDonald acted unethically and illegally when she "bullied, insulted and harassed the professional staff" of the Fish and Wildlife Service to alter scientific evidence.

"A lot of that is true," Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dale Hall is quoted as saying in the report, adding that he has been in a "running battle" with MacDonald since he took over the service in October 2005.˚

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